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Reflection on Spark at Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) SPARK Reading

Michael Schwartz

November 9, 2012, 8:00 P.M.

I suppose for our reading group, it all comes back to this line: “Kiss me, Hector. Kiss me in the goddamn rain!!” That was our go-to line if we wanted to crack each other up, and throughout both our rehearsals, it never failed to do so. Now, that sounds like I’m making fun of the line, or that I think it’s a bad line—I’m not, and it isn’t. But the laughter requires some explanation. 

I directed a university reading, and the actors were students. I’ve learned two things about directing students, or maybe more accurately, one perplexing paradox: student actors are simultaneously afraid of being openly emotional and yet eager to jump right into the deepest emotional morasses a script can offer. The problem was that the line was openly emotional—our first response (I say “our” because my emotional maturity is roughly the same as my students) was to laugh. Then a funny thing happened—the more I gave the actress who read Evelyn permission to laugh at that line (Evelyn herself might well realize that kissing in the rain is incredibly Hollywood, and therefore incredibly out of character for her), the more she was determined to let Evelyn’s joy carry her away without the meta-commentary. That commitment was one that the entire cast shared—from working on “Carolina” accents to learning the songs to singing them in harmony, none of which I asked for in my desire to keep everything as simple as possible. The students—lovely, intelligent, talented students all-- took Ms. Svich’s passionate, poetic speeches and delivered them…well, with passion and poetry.  In the end, I would say the most I could take credit for was staying the hell out of the way and letting the student actors tell Ms. Svich’s story.

As for the 20 students in attendance who asked us such great questions about veterans, PTSD, and Evelyn’s “twig” ritual, I think they were as moved and inspired as I was. The raw emotional truth that they experienced led them, I think, to be more interested in truths more specific to the plight of veterans and of those in poor communities for whom active service is one of the few viable economic choices. Well, I might be projecting a bit with that last statement, but I think you can catch a glimpse of that sort of engagement in a reading like this, and I think it happened this time. Or maybe “glimpse” isn’t the right word—in deference to Ms. Svich, more like a spark.

Thank you for letting us be a small part of this terrific and vital project.

Michael Schwartz is a temporary assistant professor in the department of theater and dance at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches history, improv and dramatrugy.